There is no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has created a crisis situation for most businesses. Long lockdowns in practically every country have seen economies come to a virtual standstill.

For marketers, this means re-evaluating plans that they had made in the beginning of the year. In order to achieve the best results possible in the available budgets, marketers would need to take a closer look at their audiences, fine tune messaging according to customer segment, put off plans that were drawn. The reality is that the pandemic has affected not just businesses. Customer behavior too has changed.

If you planned to restart businesses without factoring the changes in customer behavior you are headed towards failure. In fact, in many ways, your marketing plans made a couple of months ago will need to be overhauled. Since there are still 9 months left in the financial year, consider this as the beginning of the year. Reset your marketing plans, study your customer’s buying patterns, test your marketing strategies and be ready to adapt quickly.

Given below are five areas that marketers need to focus on as businesses restart,

1. Revisit your targets and strategies:

Most businesses would have finalized their targets for 2020 in their marketing plans. However, almost all of them would not have factored in the disruption caused by COVID-19. The pandemic would have also caused many customers, whether business or individuals, to revise their priorities. They would be revising what they need to spend on, which projects to focus on and where to cut costs. In this scenario, any business should revise its targets. As customers change their priorities, their buying behavior will also change. Marketing strategies would also need to be revisited

Targets and strategies need to adhere to the SMART principle in order to be effective:

a. Specific:
Targets should be specific and strategies should be clearly outlined. Since targets need to be achieved in a shorter timeframe, strategies need to be detailed with clear steps to execution

b. Measurable:
We do not know how long the pandemic will last or what its longer term impact will be. In order to be in a position to determine if strategies are effective and whether they need to be changed, targets should be measurable. Actual achievement will need to be measured against these targets at specific time intervals.

c. Achievable:
Amongst the most difficult decisions that businesses will have to make in the light of COVID-19 is the need for resources, including staff. Many business will not be able to deploy the same resources they had before COVID-19, whether its staff, budgets or factories and branches that are closed. Whatever targets are assigned for the year, the availability of resources and their deployment need to factored.

d. Relevant:
Marketing strategies should continue to be relevant to the brand while being aligned with changing customer attributes and priorities.

e. Timely:
The revised targets for 2020 will need to be achieved in a shorter timeframe. Marketing plans, therefore, should focus on short term strategies while keeping an eye on longer term goals.

2.  Customer Segmentation:

Customer segmentation will allow you to understand customer attributes and priorities in more detail. How are your different customer groups changing their purchase behavior because of the pandemic. In order to know this you need to segment your customer base on different purchase traits if you haven’t already done that. Segment your customers

based on different criteria such as:

a. The frequency of purchase

b. The average value of purchase

c. The product purchased

d. Where they purchased

Being able to identify newly acquired customers from pre-existing customers will also determine what product offering and messaging will help acquire more customers. The near future is going to see intense competition amongst companies and brands. The ones who understand what attracts customers, new or returning, and is able to create offers and communication accordingly will be best placed to lead the market.

3. Communication:

Life and work has changed for most of us. Many offices and businesses are still closed. Some customers are working from home. Business is not as usual and in this scenario, communication also cannot be as usual. So should you stop communicating? What do you communicate? Do you communicate on the current situation? Do you communicate on what you are doing as a brand? Do you continue to communicate on products and promotions? Should you put of new product launches? All these are questions that marketing will need to answer. Here are some forms of communication that businesses can have:

a. Business Updates: Whether you are open for business or working some hours or whether some branches are closed, let customers know.

b. Operational Updates: Maybe you are providing sanitizers and masks, or ensuring social distancing, whatever it is, communicate with customers on what you are doing to mitigate COVID-19 in your premises.

c. If your brand is involved in helping the community during the pandemic you may wish to communicate that.

d. Updates on non-COVID-19 matters: Do also let customers know on planned initiatives, new products in the pipeline etc.

e. Add some humour: Most customers will be stressed and it helps to add some humour in your communications, especially social media. However, do not go overboard and keep it in line with the brands image.

f. Segmentation: Keep communication relevant to the customer segment.

4. Measurement:

These are uncertain times and the only way you can be sure that your strategies are working and do not need to be tweaked is by being able to measure their effectiveness. If you don’t have systems in place to track the metrics it is a good time to establish them. Effectiveness of marketing strategies can be worked out by measuring number of leads, number of sales or sale value. The different metrics used include:

a. Return on Investment (ROI): The growth in revenue or profit as a result of marketing

b. Cost per Lead: The cost of a marketing campaign divided by the number of leads received

c. Cost per Sale: Similar to Leads but the Cost per actual customer

d. Increase in Sales: Pretty straight forward, it is the growth in sales during the pandemic

e. Increase in Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): CLV is the revenue that you can expect from an average customer over a long period of time. If customers continue to buy from you even during the COVID-19 crisis this would increase the CLV.

5. Adaptability:

No one has a clear idea of how long the pandemic is going to last or what actions countries will take to prevent its spread. In any case, whatever your marketing strategies and plans, ensure that they are adaptable. Be ready to revise them based on which areas are under lockdown. You may not be able to produce or procure products at Pre-Covid levels immediately so decide on which markets you want to focus on first.

Maybe you would need to look at different pricing and promotion strategies if you have a surplus of finished products in your warehouse.

Track customer buying behavior. Who is buying more frequently? If you can, speak to your customers to get a better understanding. Open new channels for sales if necessary. Sell online if customers are moving purchases online.

By the look of it the threat of this disease is going to be with us for some time. In the world of business a lot has changed and a lot more may change. Customer needs will change. Much of the way marketers operated will also need to change.

The only method to deal with that is to know your customers well, know what they will require, communicate properly and be ready to change and adapt if required.

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